The Arms Trade and Drug Lords – Going Underground

Update: Andrew Cockburn’s current article in Harper’s Magazine is an absolutely must read. I’ve not read a better summation of Saudi Arabian involvement, and the US government cover-up of the Saudi role in 9/11 than this: Crime and Punishment; Will the 9/11 Case Finally Go to Trial?

“…Owens was not impressed by what she found on Capitol Hill. Most of the senators and representatives she met didn’t seem to care who was behind 9/11. “They just didn’t want to be seen as voting against the 9/11 families. So they would vote yes for it, and then try to sabotage it behind the scenes. . . . Washington is an ugly place.”

For September 11th, I was a guest on RT UK’s show Going Underground. The host, Afshin Rattansi, is terrific. I’ve pasted below my appearance from the last time I was on his show, almost three years ago:

I’ve done a large number of tv and radio interviews the last few weeks about the American wars in the Middle East. I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on the men who are behind these policies, Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, as I believe understanding their world views, how they view themselves and their resulting intentions are crucial in understanding how American war policy evolved and, under Donald Trump, is different from the war policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Forgive the apparent vanity in sharing so many videos of myself right now, but I think I touch on a different aspect of the wars, and for that matter American society, in each of the following videos.

Comments on Syria, the world view of White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, and the lineage of American wars and use of airstrikes. From the National Press Club, August 2017, aired via CSPAN:

The full news conference, that included Christie Edwards, John Kiriakou, David Swanson and Norman Solomon can be found here.

From Democracy Now, the morning after President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy announcement, August 2017. I focus predominantly on the connection between our wars abroad and our wars at home, and the influence Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster have on President Trump. A transcript can be found here.

In this Real News interview, I discuss the influence of money on the wars, particularly the circular motion of Congress appropriating money for war, the money going to defense companies, defense companies funding think tanks and lobbyists, and those think tanks and lobbyists than justifying further defense spending, and the wars, to Congress. This was taped the day of President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan speech in August 2017.

If you have any doubt how much money an extra 4,000 troops sent to Afghanistan generates in additional war spending, understand that we spend roughly $4 million dollars per soldier per year in Afghanistan. We have 11,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, soon to be 15,000, and we spend $44 billion dollars, in direct costs only, on the war. This spending, as well as the roughly $30 billion we are spending on the wars in Syria and Iraq is independent from the base defense budget, which the US Senate is currently considering. [This year’s budget is $700 billion, which is about $40 billion MORE than Donald Trump proposed with his $54 billion increase in the defense budget last spring, which it is important to remember is only 3% greater than what President Obama proposed to spend; President Obama having spent more money on the military than any other president since FDR and World War Two, in inflation adjusted dollars.]

The United States also utilizes 2.5 contractors for each soldier in Afghanistan. So the amount of money to be made on even a small troop increase is phenomenal, as the troop increase comes alongside increased air and artillery strikes in Afghanistan and the requirement for more bases and facilities to be built. (Disregard what people like Anthony Cordesman, who works for a think tank heavily funded by the defense industry, when they say things like new troops will utilize existing infrastructure in Afghanistan and not that much more extra money will be spent on the war with a troop increase. The generals always want more bases, because they always do; contractors always want to build more bases and sell more services; and there has not been an instance of per troop costs diminishing over the time of the conflict, only expanding – God forbid the journalists point these things out or ask the “experts” who are funded by the interests about which they are speaking to justify their assertions)

It is very simple: 4,000 more American soldiers to Afghanistan means more than $15 billion in spending for the Pentagon and defense industry.

A transcript of the following interview can be found here.

In this interview with RT America, from August 31, 2017, I speak about the totality of American war policy, and there really is no other policy than the war policy, in the Middle East and Afghanistan and how the policies in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia are linked and united under a common strategy that seeks military control or subjugation of the local population through collaborating and subservient allies and proxies. The brutal use of military force, particularly that which we have witnessed in Iraq and Yemen by the Iraqi and Saudi militaries, supported directly by American air forces and commandos, is the strategy that will be put in place in Afghanistan and is what the United States is utilizing with its three air bases in Kurdish controlled Syria and the Kurdish army. We have also seen an increase in this use of strategy and operations in Somalia, I expect Libya will see the same.

This strategy differs from the Bush II and Obama strategies as there is no consideration for a political end state or political control of the population. No such thing as elections, negotiations, economic development, no attempts at winning hearts and mind, only subjugation and punishment. Yes, the Bush II and Obama wars were immoral, un-winnable and counter-productive, but there was an attempt or desire to have a political end state. Under this administration, with the policy controlled by the three generals, Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, the end state is military control of areas not sympathetic to the government through massive fire power and the use of highly trained commandos as the focus of effort against the enemy and the local population. So, in effect, the  Pashtun areas of southern, eastern and northern Afghanistan will become free fire zones with nightly kill/capture raids by commandos into villages and homes with subjugation, military control and punishment as the objectives of this violence and killing.

Finally, I did this interview with my friend Cat Watters. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken with her. A very free ranging and relaxed interview which I really enjoyed doing, because Cat gets the emotions and humanity that underlay all of what I am talking about. Thanks Cat!

Wage Peace.

The Divine that Exists In the Resistance

Update: I had this essay posted by Common Dreams:

I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.

For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.

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Veterans For Peace members march in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
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Members of Veterans For Peace and Palestinian Youth Against Settlements leader Issa Amro intercede with the Israeli police and military to stop firing in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2017. Photo credit: Sabah Media

The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.

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Veterans For Peace members and Okinawan resistance members block the road in Okinawa to protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace.
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Members of Veterans For Peace and Okinawan resistance members resisting attempts by Japanese police to move them as they protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace

There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.

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Tarak Kauff and Matthew Hoh of Veterans For Peace participate in a non-violent action with Native American water protectors to block construction of the DAPL pipeline, October 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
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Veterans For Peace members Matthew Hoh and Tarak Kauff are arrested along with Native American water protectors while conducting a non violent action to block the DAPL pipeline, October 2016.  Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace.

I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.

I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.

It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.

To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.

Wage Peace.

Counterpunching the Lies on Afghanistan

In anticipation of President Trump’s announcement this evening on Afghanistan I had the following essay published on Counterpunch:

“There has never been progress by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, unless you are asking the U.S. military contractors or the Afghan drug barons, of whom an extremely large share are our allies in the Afghan government, militias and security forces, there has only been suffering and destruction. American politicians, pundits and generals will speak about “progress” made by the 70,000 American troops put into Afghanistan by President Obama beginning in 2009, along with an additional 30,000 European troops and 100,000 private contractors, however the hard and awful true reality is that the war in Afghanistan has only escalated since 2009, never stabilizing or deescalating; the Taliban has increased in strength by tens of thousands, despite tens of thousands of casualties and prisoners; and American and Afghan casualties have continued to grow every year of the conflict, with U.S. casualties declining only when U.S. forces began to withdraw in mass numbers from parts of Afghanistan in 2011, while Afghan security forces and civilians have experienced record casualties every year since those numbers began to be kept by the UN.

Similarly, any progress in reconstructing or developing Afghanistan has been found to be near non-existent despite the more than $100 billion spent by the United States on such efforts by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). $100 billion, by the way, is more money than was spent on the Marshall Plan when that post-WWII reconstruction plan is put into inflation adjusted dollars. Oft repeated claims, such as millions of Afghan school girls going to school, millions of Afghans having access to improved health care and Afghan life expectancy dramatically increasing, and the construction of an Afghan job building economy have been exposed as nothing more than public relations lies. Displayed as modern Potemkin Villages to visiting journalists and congressional delegations and utilized to justify continued budgets for the Pentagon and USAID, and, so, to allow for more killing, like America’s reconstruction program in Iraq, the reconstruction program in Afghanistan has proven to be a failure and its supposed achievements shown to be virtually non-existent, as documented by multiple investigations by SIGAR, as well as by investigators and researchers from organizations such as the UN, EU, IMF, World Bank, etc.

Tonight, the American people will hear again the great lie about the progress the American military once made in Afghanistan after “the Afghan Surge”, just as we often hear the lie about how the American military had “won” in Iraq. In Iraq it was a political compromise that brought about a cessation of hostilities for a few short years and it was the collapse of the political balance that had been struck that led to the return to the violence of the last several years. In Afghanistan there has never even been an attempt at such a political solution and all the Afghan people have seen in the last eight years, every year, has been a worsening of the violence.

Americans will also hear tonight how the U.S. military has done great things for the Afghan people. You would be hard pressed to find many Afghans outside of the incredibly corrupt and illegitimate government, a better definition of a kleptocracy you will not find, that the U.S. keeps in power with its soldiers and $35 billion a year, who would agree with the statements of the American politicians, the American generals and the pundits, the latter of which are mostly funded, directly or indirectly, by the military companies. It is important to remember that for three straight elections in Afghanistan the United States government has supported shockingly fraudulent elections, allowing American soldiers to kill and die while presidential and parliamentary elections were brazenly stolen. It is also important to remember that many members of the Afghan government are themselves warlords and drug barons, many of them guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses and war crimes, the same abuses of which the Taliban are guilty, while the current Ghani government, and the previous Karzai government, have allowed egregious crimes to continue against women, including laws that allow men to legally rape their wives.

Whatever President Trump announces tonight about Afghanistan, a decision he teased on Twitter, as if the announcement were a new retail product launch or television show episode, as opposed to the somber and painful reality of war, we can be assured the lies about American progress in Afghanistan will continue, the lies about America’s commitment to human rights and democratic values will continue, the profits of the military companies and drug barons will also continue, and of course the suffering of the Afghan people will surely continue.”

Recently, I’ve also done two interviews on Afghanistan:

 

Finally, at the very end of this post you will find my first contribution to Will Griffin’s The Peace Report. Will’s Peace Report now has nearly 90,000 followers on Facebook!

 

Last Friday, I was invited by Maggie Martin, the co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), to head to Charlottesville, VA to link up with Maggie, other IVAW members, The Ruckus Society and local Charlottesville organizers and residents as they met up with students from Howard University. The students from Howard University, about fifty young men and women, nearly all African-Americans, traveled down from Washington, DC to pay their respects to the city of Charlottesville, and to Heather Heyer and the many people who were injured in the violence of the previous week. IVAW members and local Charlottesville residents, all of whom were white, were asked to walk in solidarity with the students, and to escort them, as the fear of the students being harassed or attacked was an honest and present reality. We were honored to do so, and together, as a group, I really do feel that we all waged a bit of Peace together last Friday in Charlottesville.

 

I took some video for Will and he put together a short film to highlight the students from Howard University as they visited Charlottesville, the site of the attack, and the renamed Heather Heyer Park.

Here’s a link to the video on Facebook and here it is on Youtube:

 

RIP Heather.

Wage Peace.

 

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence

I was grateful for the opportunity to author a guest post over at the Strategies and Tactics for the Anti-War Blog at the Veterans Reparations Project. The Veterans Reparations Project is a joint project between Veterans For Peace and the Islah Reparations Project and is something very meaningful to me, something with which I hope to become more and more involved. Please visit the Veterans Reparations Project’s webpage to see how you can be involved and how you can help with the grassroots reparations process.

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence:

I’m in my local Starbucks—yeah I know corporate evils and all that, but at 5pm on a Sunday in Wake Forest, NC you take what you can get, and I can walk here. So you take all the good you can get with the bad. Here in Wake Forest we’re not far from Ft. Bragg, home to the US Army’s paratroopers and special operations forces. Thousands of them have been ordered to deploy to Kuwait, where they will be sent into Iraq and Syria to make their own contributions to a decades long folly that has brought death, mental and physical mutilation, and societal destruction to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, profits to American defense corporations, corporate board memberships and university professorships to retired generals, and thousands upon thousands of new recruits to foreign terrorist groups; if there is something else these wars have brought, please leave a reply below, because I certainly can’t think of anything.

There is a large, neon green sign, hand written, like you would see announcing the homecoming dance in the high school hallway or your neighbor’s kid’s lemonade stand on your intersection’s stop sign: “Our Troops Are Deploying, Help Us Thank Them With Coffee.”  A large cardboard box is about a 1/3 of the way full of bags of coffee and boxes of k-cups, hopefully no decaf for those young paratroopers.

I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m wearing a t-shirt with a Howard Zinn quote on it that reads “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” as I stand next to that box of coffee bound for the Persian Gulf. I linger for a bit hoping that maybe someone will read the shirt and the sign, that maybe something will register, someone will say something to me, something to medicate me, numb me, tell me that this cycle isn’t starting all over again for several thousand young men and women, barely more than an hour’s drive from me, about to travel halfway around the world to do irreparable harm to people they’ve never met and irredeemable harm to their own souls, hearts, and minds.

I’ve been involved in this war effort since before it even had a name, taking part in training exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai counterparts that actively engaged in fighting Muslim insurgents in their own countries prior to 9/11. Whether as a willing participant of the wars or as a vocal war opponent, as an occupier or now as someone who hopes to do more to support those who are occupied, I’ve seen very little explained as to how to right the wrongs done in war and even less done to repair, to rebuild, to resuscitate, or to resurrect. Surely, I have never walked into anyplace in America since we began killing more than 1 million people overseas in response to the attacks of 9/11 and seen a box asking for coffee for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen.

Now, of course, reparations may be the proverbial bridge too far at this point, as all the nations for which we have transgressed against are still receiving the blows of our aggressions, and those of others, from both internal and foreign belligerents and villains. However, I do recognize that waiting for our government to act in the future to administer some form of restorative justice to the people of the Greater Middle East may be as great a sin as the original acts of violence themselves, because we know that our government, the United States, will never do such a thing, and if our government ever does act the list for such reparations will be a long and worthy one.

So, I am extremely grateful for what the the Veterans Reparations Project is doing. Through grassroots reparations projects we can make a difference, we can begin to help rebuild and repair, and we can begin to fix some of what we destroyed.

Nothing we do will absolve us of what we have done in these wars, I am clear on that; the spot is on and always will be on our hands, to use one of my favorite allusions from high school English class. So be it and so it goes. However, we don’t have to go along with the killing any longer and we don’t have to go along with sitting idly by either and not helping to rebuild and repair. We can and we must do what we can to help those who we hurt. I do not believe we have any other choice.

Seeking Atlas; a Q&A with Telesur on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria

 

Following the news the US would be expanding airstrikes in Afghanistan I was interviewed by Charles Davis of TelesurCharles’ article, which puts my comments into excellent context can be found here, while my full answers to Charles’ questions are below.

Are airstrikes likely to have a tangible impact?   

-The renewed airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan will have the same effect as the thousands and thousands of previous airstrikes we have conducted against the Afghan insurgency. American airstrikes will make for triumphant press releases from the US military in Kabul, and it will kill many Taliban fighters, and also many civilians, but, strategically and long term, the airstrikes will not significantly weaken the Taliban, and, very likely, may strengthen them by providing more public support due to the civilian casualties the air strikes will cause. Under General Petraeus, starting in 2010, the US initiated scores of airstrikes, as well as dozens of nighttime commando raids, daily against Afghan insurgent targets. Many of these strikes hit legitimate targets, but many more of them hit civilians. The surge in the increase of public support for the Taliban in the areas of the air and commando strikes is undeniable. Similarly, this surge in American attacks only saw an increase in Taliban attacks. Rather than weakening the Taliban, the Taliban’s ability to fight, judged by nearly all indicators (number of Americans killed and wounded, number of assassinations, number of IEDs, etc) increased, year by year. There should be no doubt as to the effectiveness of American air power against the Afghan insurgency in the achievement of strategic and political goals in Afghanistan: at best there is no evidence the air strikes had a positive strategic effect pursuant to American goals, except to provide political cover for the American withdrawal; and at worst the evidence is that the airstrikes were entirely counter-productive. In Afghanistan, during our nearly 15 year occupation, there has been no reliable, non-corrupt, non-predatory, local Afghan forces that have been able to hold ground against the Afghan insurgency, let alone claim the support of the Afghan population, primarily Pashtun, in the East and South of Afghanistan. Without a militarily capable and locally endorsed Afghan ground force, no amount of American air power will be successful.

In concert with local proxy forces they appear to be helping reduce ISIS’s hold on land in Iraq and Syria… does that mean they could work against the Taliban?

-In Iraq and Syria US airstrikes have had a role in pushing back the Islamic State and its allied Sunni fighters, but the overwhelming reason for this has been increased success by sectarian forces, Kurdish in Syria and Shia in Iraq, on the ground against the Sunni forces. It is very important to realize the sectarian nature of this conflict and to note that all sides are committing atrocities, as noted by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those atrocities, in turn, motivate continued sectarian conflict and provide an existential reason for Sunnis, Kurds and Shia to support their respective sides. You’ll note that in the cities in Iraq from where the Islamic State has been forced to retreat from, Ramadi and Tikrit particularly, the cities have been massively destroyed, widely looted and are mostly empty of their previous Sunni residents due to the occupation of the Shia militias. The Shia militias are the primary reason for the success of the counter-offensive against the Islamic State, as the Iraqi Army is still very corrupt and ineffective. American air strikes in Iraq and Syria are a supporting mechanism only and on their own cannot push the Islamic State from the (Sunni) territory they hold.

Is this a slippery slope that will lead to US troops eventually returning to a combat role?

-In terms of US troops going into full scale ground conflict in either Iraq or Syria, I don’t believe it will occur for any military reason, but rather will occur for a political reason such as the American president making a “red line” statement or due to an atrocity, both of which were the reasons offered by the Obama Administration to enter into the Syrian civil war in 2013 (in a manner that would have placed American forces in a position where their objectives and goals were directly aligned with those of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups). Regardless of the rationale, the reasoning will be political and it will be because the US president feels she or he needs to strengthen their display of American resolve in the Middle East, which would be in line with President Johnson’s decision(s) to escalate the Vietnam War and President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009. By saying there is no military reason, I mean that no mid- or long-term outcome can come out of American troop involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria other than American boys and girls once again patrolling hostile city and village streets in a country half a world away they do not understand while being under constant guerrilla war attack. I think the biggest impetus on US troop involvement would be in protection of the Kurdish oil and gas fields in northern Iraq, particularly if the planned attack on Mosul, by the Iraqi government, Shia militias and Kurdish forces, fails (if the attack ever happens), and the Kurds, and the large number of American and European energy firms resident in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, feel threatened as they did in 2014.

Does the US even have a strategy?

-The US does not have a strategy in any way that any person who has ever put together a plan of action or strategy for a business, construction project or even a kids’ soccer game would expect. Rather the US is simply reacting to events in Syria and Iraq that failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of politicians and politically inspired planners in Washington DC over the last decade and a half. This really has been and continues to be a foreign and military policy based upon allegiance to neoconservative ideology, whether carried out by a Democratic or Republican administration, and propelled by “hope” that things will fall in line with expectations due to an unwavering belief in American superiority and faith in the righteousness of American supremacy. The US has found its role in both Iraq and Syria by unleashing sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria and then being disappointed when those sectarian forces have ignited civil wars that cannot be controlled. For example, since 2011, in Iraq the US hoped to use the Shia dominated government to control Sunni discontent and to keep the violence of the Islamic State in check, while in Syria, right across the border, the US hoped to utilize Sunni discontent and the Islamic State’s violence to overthrow the Syrian government.

What is apparent is an American strategy in the Middle East that is astonishingly detached from reality, let alone history, both this and last century’s. The success of such a policy as America’s would require the intervention of a determinist deity, such as Atlas, to hold together the badly fracturing Middle East that had previously been held together, in definition, by America’s massive arms and financial support to despotic monarchies, revolutionary groups, and unquestioned support of Israel. Such a house of cards could never stand.

Two People Discuss War; formerly titled: A Marine and an Iraqi Discuss War

Last week, as part of Ralph Nader’s four-day conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Through Power, my friend Raed Jarrar, a Palestinian-Iraqi-American, and I gave a talk on the horrors of war. My perspectives of combat, occupation, colonial administration and war time politics, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington, were set besides Raed’s experiences of living in Baghdad following the Gulf War, through the years of sanctions, into the American invasion, yes, the glory of Shock and Awe, and for the first year of occupation. Raed left Baghdad in 2004, but returned to Iraq to help rebuild, before becoming a full-time peace and anti-war activist.

The video is below. I want to thank Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law for allowing Raed and I to share how we both came to the same understanding of our lives, our world, our leaders, our people, our wars and the need for peace, from the different ends of a rifle.

Also, my apologies to the brave and fantastic Alli McCracken for giving the equally brave and fantastic Medea Benjamin credit for trying to, rightfully, arrest Henry Kissinger last year. Thank you Alli and Code Pink.

The remainder of the day’s talks and conversations can be found on Youtube.

Big Sexy Does the Impossible…

 

“Bartolo has done it! The impossible has happened!”

If you’re a Mets fan, a baseball fan, a sports fan, a fan of fellow dudes in their 40s still playing sports with gusto and swagger, or just anyone who is not cynical, miserable or self-loathing, Philadelphia sports fans I am referencing you, you are most likely still smiling and possibly cheering over Mets pitcher, Bartolo Colon, aka Big Sexy, hitting his first professional home run at the age of 42.

In 1969, another Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver, a young man in the midst of just his third year in his eventual Hall of Fame career, still young enough to have more guts than savvy, and more heart than fear, declared:

“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.”

The Amazins did beat the Orioles to win the World Series that year, but the Americans stayed in Vietnam for another four years. Over those four years nearly 15,000 US soldiers would be killed in that far away land, tens of thousands would be wounded, many of them permanently, hundreds of thousands would be psychologically injured, and tens of thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands, would die, as they continue to die, by the never ending after effects of war, most especially the Rainbow Herbicides (Agents Blue, Orange, White, etc.) and suicide.

As the Mets did the impossible and became World Champions, President Nixon continued his secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos and escalated the bombing of Vietnam. By the time Nixon, Kissinger, Abrams, et. al admitted the war in Vietnam could not be won millions more men, women and children had been killed and wounded, countless families shattered, and an entire eco-system destroyed. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were set to begin and half the Cambodian population would be murdered.*

As with our veterans of Vietnam here at home, the war still goes on in that far away land. Meant to destroy lives decades ago, bombs and landmines today kill or maim an estimated 1,000 people each year, many of them born after the war ended. And the Rainbow Herbicides with which we soaked and saturated the Vietnamese fields, mountains, rivers, lakes, jungles, crops, livestock, schools, temples, churches and homes? The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates almost 5 million people were exposed to the 20 million gallons of chemicals dispersed aerially over 5 million acres, it was, after all, the largest chemical weapons program in history. Estimates are 1 million people are currently living their lives disabled in South East Asia because of the chemicals sprayed over four decades ago, and that includes 100,000 children. Those children, monstrously deformed, are still being born today. Read and look here and, when your eyes are dry and your stomach settled, please visit Project Renew and the Vietnam Agent Orange Responsibility and Relief Campaign to help, and then call your members of Congress and tell them to support Barbara Lee’s H.R. 2114.

Not long before Tom Seaver contravened conventional and accepted sports and political wisdom another New York sports legend, Joe Namath, famously predicted his New York Jets would defeat Johnny Unitas and the Colts. David and Goliath never played out so theatrically and athletically as Namath, and his long hair and sideburns, made good on his guarantee of victory – the folks in Baltimore had it tough in 1969. Of course, the cultural significance of Namath’s boast and win is not lost on anyone with a knowledge of 1960/70s American societal upheaval and by comparing side by side photos of Broadway Joe and Johnny U.

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The Jets can’t win, the Mets can’t win, overweight 42 year old pitchers can’t hit home runs, the US can’t get out of Vietnam, the hippies can’t win, love can’t win…Peace can’t happen…

From those who know: those in uniform with tin medals; those in residence at Langley, at Foggy Bottom, or in a think tank office paid for by defense industry dollars; and those on the campaign trail who, craven, wicked and desperate, are happy to wave the Bloody Shirt, we hear, with endless certitude and authority, that we can’t get out of the Middle East, we can’t get out of war, we can’t, we can’t…What happens if we don’t?

I am certain, the answer to that is, simply, more death, including here in the US, more suffering, more shattered families, a poisoned world, and, eventually, the end of man.

We can put an end to our wars and we must put an end to our wars. It is possible. We can choose not to aid dictatorships that repress their own people, monarchies that fund terror and massacre neighbors, or democracies that wantonly commit war crimes. We can not send troops and cash to prop up governments that hold fraudulent elections and which are composed of war and drug lords, and we can stop invading and bombing countries like Iraq and Libya. Additionally, we can stop shipping weapons from one war zone to another war zone, and we can stop trying to use terrorist groups, the very terrorist groups our invasions create, to achieve our political objectives. We could even stop being the planet’s largest arms merchant. We may say we want peace and stability, but it’s hard to demonstrate such when we sell the world the implements and ingredients that go into so much chaos, suffering and death.

In 2003 a majority in our Congress and our President thought invading Iraq had to be done. They were wrong. In 2009 a majority in our Congress and our President believed escalating the war in Afghanistan had to happen. They were wrong then too. More recently it has been a disbelief in a nuclear weapons deal with Iran and a cease fire in Ukraine. In both cases, majorities in Congress favored war with Iran and potentially war in Europe over talking with either the Iranians or the Russians. Well, today, we have a nuclear agreement with the Iranians, which the Iranian people endorsed, and there has been a cease fire in Ukraine that, while shaky, has held and has brought levels of violence down quite dramatically over the last 15 months (I am not linking to any polls to prove Ukrainians are happy their family members and neighbors have stopped being killed, although we have people, appropriately referred to as chickenhawks, war profiteers and psychopaths, in Washington, DC who would argue otherwise…).

What if we tried for peace? What if we empowered diplomacy and strengthened our role in constructive engagement, forgetting the boundaries, the ideologies and the allegiances of the past? What if we pursued policies of reconciliation among religions, ethnicities and sects, rather than trying to manipulate them to turn maps the colors and shades we want them? And what if we prioritized our problems at home, worked to rebuild our country and fixed our own democracy? I know, I know, I know, that’s silly, that’s trite, that’s naive….that’s impossible…Such thoughts and ideas, based on the realities of American foreign and military policy failures and rooted in morality and principle, aren’t allowed in Presidential Debates or in Republican or Democratic party platforms.

It appears that no matter who we elect in November our devotion to militarism, measured in trillions of dollars, and interventionist adventurism, measured in millions of dead and mutilated people, will not change, but will continue because to do otherwise is deemed impossible by our ruling political class.

The possibility of peace will not occur unless we force it to occur, until then, we might as just watch Bart defy the impossible. This time en espanol.

*For more information on the petty fear and lies that motivated the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations to begin, escalate and prolong the war in Vietnam please read Frederik Logevall’s Embers of War, David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie. Not only do these books illustrate the malfeasance that dominated American policy making in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but they illuminate and illustrate the same gross failures, incompetencies and deceits of American foreign policy decision makers in our current century.